This appeared previously on The Wretched of the Snark: Dispatches from the Long Beach Zoo.
GQ recently published a fantastic article detailing the recent comeback of soul singer D’Angelo, he of the “Untitled (how does it feel)” video where he famously recorded his memorable shirtless “adonis” style video. Alyssa over at Think Progress drew attention specifically on the section of the article where D’Angelo and Questlove of the Roots discuss the impact that the video had on D’Angelo’s self image. In short, reducing himself to “bone and muscle” and the resulting objectification sparked D’Angelo to pursue an extremely destructive path that almost killed him. Questlove articulated D’Angelo’s problems as “some Kate Moss shit”. This is unfortunate on so many levels, and I say that as someone who has some personal experience with a body issues.
Whether you call it something cute like “manorexia” or clinical like “Body Dysmorphic Disorder” the fact of matter remains that there is an underreported and frankly misunderstood perception of what it is like being a man and suffering from what is quite obviously a severe mental health problem. Too often we as a society are quick to label eating disorders or a pre-occupation with one’s appearance as a wholly female problem, allowing our ingrained sexism to dismiss such issues as weaknesses when they are exhibited by men. It was this sort of shitty double standard that at least contributed to me never seeking treatment or even confining the depths of what I was experiencing until I finally “confessed” as much to Molly (the person who would later become my wife).
Before I tell my story I want to make it clear that I never took the brave step of acknowledging my problem to any sort professional while it was happening. Therefore I am hesitant to apply a specific label to it, as I am not a doctor and giving some after the fact WebMD diagnosis would be inappropriate. However I do know that I was severely depressed, incredibly insecure, and inflicted an extraordinary amount of unnecessary pain on myself during the time I endured whatever “it” was.
I was a fat kid for a few years in high school. This is not a big deal to say now, especially as I have met the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. However as an 18 year old about to start college with a tabula rasa social history, it was of the upmost importance that this fairly common adolescent experience would be kept a secret. A constant de-tagging of Facebook photos followed, as did a stringent (and disgusting) path of extreme dieting. When I predictably screwed up my first hook-ups I descended further into really hopeless period of hyper-evaluating whatever romantic future I had, while simultaneously withdrawing from what could have been a helpful social environment.
By my second year my social situation had stabilized as I had found a group of truly wonderful individuals to hang out with. However at this same time I had also embraced both being a douchetastic bro as well as engaging in unhealthy amounts of physical activity (while somehow holding down a decent GPA). It was at this point that I was averaging about 3 hours of exercise a day and subsisting on an extremely limited menu of tiny meals—all done alone and away from whatever judgement I might encounter.
Somehow while maintaining this borderline suicidal schedule I managed to meet my first actual girlfriend. Unfortunately I also consciously managed our time together in a way that it did not interfere with this debilitating habit that I had undertaken. She carefully tried her best to help me realize what I was doing, but I was too stubborn (or lost) to realize it at the time. I would have a minor freak-out over whether the waiter had actually brought me a diet or regular soda on a date. She would ask me to help her finish a piece of cake and I would act as if she had just handed me a plate off of Fear Factor.
When I began my senior year I had pretty much settled into this highly regulated and profoundly unsatisfying lifestyle. However when I arrived in Senegal I for the first time had to realize just how ridiculous it had devolved. But despite the fact that I was wasting what could have been a deeply transcendent term abroad trying to sort out my own personal demons regarding my body, I stubbornly continued this jackassery when I returned to the states.
Somehow by my final year at Brandeis the cracks on the facade were starting to show. My buddies Art and Dan took me to a burger joint in Provincetown on our senior trip and celebrated loudly as I tasted what had to be my first milkshake and cheeseburger meal in four years (it was fucking delicious by the way). But it truly was Molly who helped end this period of my life, hopefully for good. Through her love and support I finally felt secure in opening up to someone about how I felt and my general concerns over how to live a truly healthy and balanced life. Her steady and patient hand were the essential part of my process of recovery, and I am forever grateful for her help.
I am happy to say that I believe that I finally have found this happy balance. Molly, competitive running, and the support of my friends all aided in the process, but I still regret the time wasted during that daily trial of insanity. We have built a society balancing largely unregulated food and advertising industry on one end, and impossible standards of beauty for women and men on the other. We are constantly facilitating the creation of eating disorders and then failing to establish a proper pathway for treatment and resolution. I basically wasted four years of my life on a painful and self-indulgent pursuit of nothing. I chased my own tail of insecurity and treated others around me like crap in the process, and it is something that no one should have to experience. So please, if you are reading this and find any remnants of your own story in its contents please seek help. You have nothing to lose by acknowledging and working to find true health and happiness, regardless of your size.
—Photo credit: joe.oconnell/Flickr